Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Old Job Venom-Removal, Part 2

I thought I’d come up with as many clichés for removing bad feelings as possible.  I absolutely CANNOT wait for this series to be over—editing a trauma is so distracting from the general niceness of life, I don’t know how memoir-writers do it!

Anyway, I was superexcited and super daunted by my new position. I would be the main teacher for grades pre-K-1st and 4th-8th at the summer camp, in the same place where I’d just finished the school year. It would be my first real-sized paycheck and I was just blown away by the amount it seemed possible to accomplish. The trainings, especially the literacy ones, were so compelling that I stopped being able to sleep or read- I was just nervous and obsessed about how to pull this off.

This was also the first time that I lead adults in a job. I got a meeting together with the counselors who’d be sharing the classes with me. I made it clear that since a lot of the curriculum we were working with was tolerance based, I wanted us to treat each other and the kids with respect. I’d overheard one young dude making lots of “That’s so gay” comments during training, so I got on a little soapbox about avoiding those kinds of comments. Other than that bit of soapboxing, I tried to be collaborative and egalitarian. It is possible that I might have been a bit of a jackass.

(Sidenote: The “That’s so gay” dude always wore a keychain around his neck with a picture of him and his girlfriend. Those were common, and reminded me that my relationship was not considered equal to his within the company.)

Most of the camp counselors decided that they hated me. Instead of working as a team to lead classes, they were always texting, correcting me, or rolling their eyes. Especially the leaders of the older kids’ class, which had 50 students in it. The kids picked up on the teachers’ dislike and made it very draining to get through a lesson or project. One morning I found that a discussion group had veered off topic onto a discussion between the kids and adults about how they didn’t like me. The mean-girl grown-ups had made sure I heard it.

I cried to the coordinator (a different one from the school year) and a team time was called. The Operation’s Manager (also a different one from the school year) joined in the team time. This was basically nine people, including my superiors, sitting around telling me that I was too full of myself, that I wasn’t working hard enough because I wouldn’t yell at the kids, and that I had to grow a thicker skin. (In case you’re wondering, I still haven’t quite gotten to that magical skill of not taking things personally.)

After I apologized (?!) to everyone, the OM said that there was one more thing that we had to discuss. She cleared the room of everyone except the coordinator, co-coordinator, and me. Then she made this clearly well rehearsed speech about “Not teaching about my lifestyle.” She said it several times and in a very menacing way. I had to ask what the heck she was talking about—I hadn’t mentioned my family situation since that meeting in the spring.

With a look of absolute contempt in her face (good LORD contempt-face should be illegal), the co-coordinator said “A student came up and said to me “Ms. Jane is a lesbian.” and I just don’t know why you would’ve said that in a classroom situation, so I let the OM know what happened.” The student was of course a student from the school year, and at no point in the intervening weeks had anyone asked me if I’d taught a class about being gay.

Instead of apologizing for the misunderstanding, the OM said “Some of the counselors were very hurt and upset by this. I hope you’ll take some time to apologize to them.”

I definitely did not apologize for whatever aspect of being queer hurt their feelings so much, but we all did manage to get along better for the rest of the summer. I finished up the summer with successful student surveys (The older kids still didn’t like me, but they learned everything they were supposed to learn) and a 20% increase in letter-recognition among the pre-K students.

I was very conflicted about re-upping, so I wrote a letter to the CEO (LinkedIn is amazing, isn’t it?) telling him what’d happened at the Scary Team Time. He was upset and promised he would speak to the OM about it. He sought me out at the end-of-summer picnic to see if I was alright, and that made me feel like something might change.

So, when organizing the craft closet made me curious about the school year to come, I signed up for another school year as group leader. Little did I know, I would have a new coordinator again: Contempt Face herself.

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